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Pope Francis visits Iraq regions once held by Islamic State

Pope Francis is visiting parts of northern Iraq that were held by Islamic State (IS) militants on the third day of his historic trip to the country.

Christians were among those targeted by IS when they seized the region in 2014, carrying out human rights abuses.

The Pope has arrived in the city of Mosul where he is praying among the ruins of its churches, several of which were destroyed during the fighting.

Later he will celebrate Mass in Irbil, with up to 10,000 attendees expected.

There are fears the ritual could become a coronavirus super-spreader event.

Iraq has seen a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections over the past month. The 84-year-old leader of the Catholic Church and his entourage have all been vaccinated, but Iraq only received its first batch of doses last week.

The four-day trip, which began on Friday, is the pontiff’s first international excursion since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, and the first ever papal visit to the country.
After arriving in Irbil, he was welcomed by the head of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani.

He then travelled by helicopter on to Mosul where he visited Church Square to pray for the victims of the war with the Islamic State group, which left tens of thousands of civilians dead.

The exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East, he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency, had done “incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind”.

He is also due to visit nearby Qaraqosh to see Iraq’s largest church, which was partly destroyed by IS.

People have been gathering in joyful anticipation of his visit to the town.

-BBC

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